Map of the Heart 

Cadence's "August: Osage County" is intense and epic.

click to enlarge County lyin': From left, David Bridgewater, Melissa Johnston Price, Karen Stanley, Carolyn Meade and Eric Williams co-star in "August: Osage County." - JAY PAUL
  • Jay Paul
  • County lyin': From left, David Bridgewater, Melissa Johnston Price, Karen Stanley, Carolyn Meade and Eric Williams co-star in "August: Osage County."

With "Lord of the Flies," "God of Carnage," "Macbeth" and "You Don't Know Me," we seem to be in the midst of a disturbing season in Richmond theater. Last weekend's openings of Sycamore Rouge's "Topdog/Underdog" and "August: Osage County" are no different.

Staged by Cadence Theatre Company, "August" follows the collapse of a family after its patriarch leaves. Drug abuse, incest and violence are just the tip of the iceberg in this pitch-black, Pulitzer Prize winner by Tracy Letts.

Cadence's benefits from some exceptionally strong performances. Melanie Richards plays Violet Weston, the family's pill-popping matriarch. Richards' portrayal is a tapestry of hate and self-prescribed delusion. She's unabashed in her cruelty, and inflicts pain in the way that only a close family member can.

Melissa Johnston Price plays Barbara Fordham, Violet's eldest daughter. Barbara tries to control the chaos around her, gradually lowering herself to her mother's level. Price erupts onstage in an emotionally draining performance. With the play running upwards of three hours, it must be the equivalent of running a marathon every night for these actors.

Price and Richards are surrounded by a large and able ensemble cast. From the moment Bill Brock steps onstage, he exudes sleaze in his role as the businessman with a thing for younger women. Jody Smith Strickler is appropriately brash and unapologetic as Mattie Fae. Karen Stanley is believable as Jean, the teenager trying to pretend she's older than she is.

Keri Wormald's direction of the 13-member cast is excellent and manages to keep the humor of Letts' script intact even in its most dramatic scenes. Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the show is how close to home it can hit for some families.

Intense and angry, "August: Osage County" is an epic and devastating drama, and this performance does it justice. S

Cadence Theatre Company's "August: Osage County" plays through March 10 in Theatre Gym at Theatre IV, 114 W. Broad St. Tickets are $26, and can be purchased by phone at 282-2620 or online at PAUL



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